The New York Analysis of Policy & Government concludes its review of the Department of Defense’s 2015 Report to Congress on the Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea . In this segment, we examine Pyongyang’s nuclear, missile, biological, chemical and cyber warfare capabilities, as well as its proliferation of advanced weapons technology.
Ballistic Missile Force. North Korea has several hundred short- and medium-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs and MRBMs) available for use against targets on the Korean Peninsula and Japan. A developmental intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), though untested and unreliable as a weapon, could also be launched at targets in the region.
North Korea has an ambitious ballistic missile development program in addition to its deployed mobile theater ballistic missiles. Since early 2012, North Korea has made efforts to raise the public profile of its ballistic missile command, now called the Strategic Rocket Forces. In 2014, Kim Jong Un personally oversaw several ballistic missile launch exercises, and North Korea launched an unprecedented number of ballistic missiles. The State media covered the usually secretive events, including reporting on two launch cycles in the same week. Kim’s public emphasis of the missile force continued into 2015, when he appeared at what North Korea portrayed as the test launch of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). In late November 2015, the ROK’s Yonhap news agency reported that North Korea appeared to conduct an SLBM test but it ended in failure with no indication that the missile successfully ejected from the vessel.
North Korea is committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States. Pyongyang displayed the KN08 ICBM, which it refers to as Hwasong-13, on six road-mobile transporter-erector-launchers (TEL) during military parades in 2012 and 2013. If successfully designed and developed, the KN08 likely would be capable of reaching much of the continental United States, assuming the missiles displayed are generally representative of missiles that will be fielded. However, ICBMs are extremely complex systems that require multiple flight tests to identify and correct design or manufacturing defects. Without flight tests, the KN08’s current reliability as a weapon system would be low. In October 2015, North Korea paraded four missiles on KN08 TELs. These missiles are noticeably different from those previously displayed on these TELs.
North Korea also continues to develop the TD-2, which could reach the continental United States if configured as an ICBM. In April and December 2012, North Korea conducted launches of the TD-2 configured as a SLV, which used ballistic missile technology. The April launch failed but the December launch succeeded.
Developing an SLV contributes heavily to North Korea’s long-range ballistic missile development, since the two vehicles have many shared technologies. However, a space launch does not test a reentry vehicle (RV). Without an RV capable of surviving atmospheric reentry, North Korea cannot deliver a weapon to target from an ICBM.
Advances in ballistic missile delivery systems, coupled with developments in nuclear technology
are in line with North Korea’s stated objective of being able to strike the U.S. homeland. North Korea followed its February 12, 2013 nuclear test with a campaign of media releases and authoritative public announcements reaffirming its need to counter perceived U.S. hostility with nuclear-armed ICBMs. North Korea continues to devote scarce resources to these programs, but the pace of its progress will also depend, in part, on how much technology and other aid it can acquire from other countries.
Cyberwarfare Capabilities. North Korea has an offensive cyber operations (OCO) capability. Implicated in malicious cyber activity and cyber effects operations since 2009, North Korea probably views OCO as an appealing platform from which to collect intelligence and cause disruption in South Korea and other adversaries including the United States. North Korea likely views cyber as a cost-effective, asymmetric, deniable tool that it can employ with little risk from reprisal attacks, in part because its networks are largely separated from the Internet and disruption of Internet access would have minimal impact on its economy. On November 24, 2014, North Korean cyberactors using the name “Guardians of Peace” attacked Sony Pictures Entertainment, shutting down employee access and deleting data. As a result of North Korea’s historical isolation from outside communications and influence, it is likely to use Internet infrastructure from third-party nations.
Nuclear Weapons. North Korea continues to pursue a nuclear weapons program, having conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, and 2013. In April 2013, less than two months after its third nuclear test, North Korea promulgated a domestic “Law on Consolidating Position as a Nuclear Weapons State” to provide a legal basis for its nuclear program and another signal that it does not intend to give up its pursuit of nuclear development. The law states “the nuclear weapons of the DPRK can only be used by a final order of the Supreme Commander of the Korean’s People’s Army (Kim Jong Un) to repel invasion or attack from a hostile nuclear weapons state and make retaliatory strikes.” North Korea continues to invest in its nuclear infrastructure and could conduct additional nuclear tests at any time. In 2010, North Korea revealed a uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon that it claims is for producing fuel for a light water reactor under construction. In April 2013, North Korea announced its intent to restart and refurbish the nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, including the nuclear reactor that had been shut down since 2007 and the uranium enrichment facility.
The director of the DPRK Atomic Energy Institute confirmed in September 2015 that all of the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, including the uranium enrichment plant and reactor, were “adjusted and altered” following the April 2013 announcement and restarted for the purpose of building its nuclear force. The director also claimed that scientists and technicians were enhancing the levels of various nuclear weapons in quality and quantity.
These activities violate North Korea’s obligations under UNSCRs 1718, 1874, 2087, and 2094, contravene its commitments under the September 19, 2005 Six-Party Talks Joint Statement, and increase the risk of proliferation.
Biological Weapons. DoD assesses that North Korea may consider the use of biological weapons as an option, contrary to its obligations under the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention (BWC). North Korea continues to develop its biological research and development capabilities, but has yet to declare any relevant developments and has failed to provide a BWC Confidence-Building Measure declaration since 1990.
Chemical Weapons. North Korea probably has had a longstanding chemical weapons (CW) program with the capability to produce nerve, blister, blood, and choking agents and likely possesses a CW stockpile. North Korea probably could employ CW agents by modifying a variety of conventional munitions, including artillery and ballistic missiles. In addition, North Korean forces are prepared to operate in a contaminated environment; they train regularly in chemical defense operations. North Korea is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Proliferation. North Korea has been an exporter of conventional arms and ballistic missiles for several decades. Despite the adoption of United Nations Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs) 1718, 1874, 2087, and 2094, which prohibit all weapons sales and the provision of related technical training from North Korea, the DPRK continues to market, sell, and deliver weapons-related goods and services. Weapons sales are a critical source of foreign currency for North Korea, which is unlikely to cease export activity in spite of UN Security Council sanctions; the implementation of Executive Order 13382, under which designated WMD proliferators’ access to the U.S. and global financial systems are targeted; or increased international efforts to interdict its weapons-related exports.
North Korea uses a worldwide network to facilitate arms sales activities and maintains a core, but dwindling group of recipient countries including Iran, Syria, and Burma. North Korea has exported conventional and ballistic missile-related equipment, components, materials, and technical assistance to countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Conventional weapons sales have included ammunition, small arms, artillery, armored vehicles, and SAMs.
In addition to Iran and Syria, past clients for North Korea’s ballistic missiles and associated technology have included Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, and Yemen. Burma has begun distancing itself from North Korea but concerns remain regarding lingering arms trade ties.
North Korea uses various methods to circumvent UNSCRs, including falsifying end-user certificates, mislabeling crates, sending cargo through multiple front companies and intermediaries, and using air cargo for deliveries of high-value and sensitive arms exports.
North Korea’s demonstrated willingness to proliferate nuclear technology remains one of our gravest concerns. North Korea provided Libya with uranium hexafluoride, the form of uranium used in the uranium enrichment process to produce fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons, via the proliferation network of Pakistani nuclear scientist AQ Khan. North Korea also provided Syria with nuclear reactor technology until 2007.